Since 1901, King’s Lynn Operatic and Dramatic Society have been entertaining the residents of West Norfolk. Although KLODS current home is firmly situated at the heart of The King’s Lynn Arts Centre complex, our community group began life as ‘The Hunstanton Amateur Operatic Society’.
Above: President Anne Greeves and Chairman Margaret Fox
The society owes its inception to Arthur Cross, well known in West Norfolk at the time as the organist at Sandringham Church. Under his name, the first society circular was issued and it read…
‘‘To inaugurate the new Century, it is proposed to form at Hunstanton an Amateur Society for the practice and possible performance of Light Operas etc.’’
The first production was Patience in 1901. However, the group quickly outgrew the small stage at the Hunstanton Town Hall. Enrolling many members from King’s Lynn, most productions were then staged in Lynn at The Theatre Royal located on St. James Street. During its early years the group even gained royal patronage from the Prince of Wales, who was later crowned George V. KLODS still have records of an insurance claim made in 1936 for a cancelled performance of The Girl Friend, owing to the death of George V at Sandringham, for £50 (nearly £2000 today).
Above and below: The Theatre Royal.
Until 1922, with one exception, King’s Lynn and Hunstanton Operatic Society exclusively performed Gilbert and Sullivan. Indeed Clara Dow, born in Lynn in 1883, was one of the last principal sopranos ever to be trained by W.S. Gilbert himself! Miss Dow appeared in the 1905 production of The Mikado.
Above: Miss Clara Dow
Sadly, the magnificent Theatre Royal was totally destroyed by fire in 1936. But it was only the First and Second World Wars that interrupted productions. The groups’ own Concert Party had entertained troops during the latter and reportedly appeared in Picture Post for doing so. Known as KLODS from 1934 onwards, performances were arranged at the now derelict Pilot Cinema until 1951 when a return to the new Theatre Royal beckoned.
Above: The Pilot Cinema in its glory days.
Owing to Theatre Royal becoming a permanent Bingo hall in 1968, KLODS have been performing consistently at The Fermoy Centre ever since. Perhaps an event even more significant occurred in the 1980s, when KLODS purchased their own permanent headquarters adjacent to the theatre. Thanks to the untiring efforts of Ben Curtis (then Chairman for nearly 30 years), a parachute jump, tea dances and fayres, enough funds were raised buy the old girls school science block. Now better known as The King’s Lynn Arts Centre, The 15th Century Guildhall of St. George theatre is still considered by many to be our true home. It’s here that pantomimes were performed every other year until 2009
Above and below: The Fifteenth Century Guildhall of St. George (King’s Lynn Arts Centre).
With The Theatre Royal and Pilot Cinema long gone, the arts venues grew again in 1998 with the refurbishment of the Kings Lynn Corn Exchange. KLODS staged Little Shop of Horrors there in the same year, with King’s Lynn Technical College impressing everyone by providing four different sized and functional Audrey II’s. A first for an amateur group, 2008’s High School Musical sold out for its complete run!
Above and below: The King’s Lynn Corn Exchange
With the global recession hitting everyone hard, from 2012 all performances have returned once again to The Arts Centre.
But venues are only the platform to view KLODS 113 year journey. Many members behind the scenes have always kept the group going through many highs and lows. Past Presidents have included Sir John Bagge, Sir Jeremy Bagge, and The Earl Spencer. Anne Greeves is the current President, and the first woman to take that post. The group’s administration is bigger business than one might expect for an amateur group, and it’s only through the efforts of the President, Chairman and sitting committee that so many things get done. Hiring of theatres, advertising, publicity, costumes, sets, props and maintenance of HQ is all done largely in-house by the above set of dedicated volunteers. Of course it is with local businesses, patrons and importantly audiences that we owe a huge debt of support.
As for what KLODS’ future holds, keep an eye out at The King’s Lynn Arts Centre. A poster or two is likely to give that away in an instant.